A 'major setback' for IranThe explosion three weeks ago at a missile testing site outside of Tehran is being seen as a major setback for Iran's nuclear weapons program, according to a report in the New York Times (Hat Tip: Memeorandum).
In interviews, current and former officials said surveillance photos showed that the Iranian base was a central testing center for advanced solid-fuel missiles, an assessment backed by outside experts who have examined satellite photos showing that the base was almost completely leveled in the blast. Such missiles can be launched almost instantly, making them useful to Iran as a potential deterrent against pre-emptive attacks by Israel or the United States, and they are also better suited than older liquid-fuel designs for carrying warheads long distances.I'm all in favor of feigning disinterest in the cause of the explosion. But 'we'll take it however we can get it' doesn't sound like much of a plan to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons. And that precisely is the problem: There is no plan.
It is still unclear what caused the explosion, with American officials saying they believe it was probably an accident, perhaps because of Iran’s inexperience with a volatile, dangerous technology. Iran declared it an accident, but subsequent discussions of the episode in the Iranian news media have referred to the chief of Iran’s missile program as one of the “martyrs” killed in the huge explosion. Some Iranian officials have talked of sabotage, but it is unclear whether that is based on evidence or surmise after several years in which Iranian nuclear scientists have been assassinated on Tehran’s streets, and a highly sophisticated computer worm has attacked its main uranium production facility.
Both American and Israeli officials, in discussing the explosion in recent days, showed little curiosity about its cause. “Anything that buys us time and delays the day when the Iranians might be able to mount a nuclear weapon on an accurate missile is a small victory,” one Western intelligence official who has been deeply involved in countering the Iranian nuclear program said this weekend. “At this point, we’ll take whatever we can get, however it happens.”
And while the US is denying that Iran shot down a sophisticated US drone over the weekend, as Iranian media reported on Sunday (Hat Tip: Memeorandum), this doesn't sound too good either.
In a statement on Sunday, the American-led International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan said that the drone “to which the Iranians are referring may be a U.S. unarmed reconnaissance aircraft that had been flying a mission over western Afghanistan late last week.” It added that operators of the remotely controlled drone aircraft lost control of it “and had been working to determine its status.” The statement did not say what kind of drone was lost, or what might have caused the loss.What could go wrong? Read the whole thing.
The statement would seem to suggest that the craft wrongly flew across the border into Iran. If a drone was used for intelligence gathering in Iran, it presumably would not belong to the military — since there are no open hostilities with Iran — but rather to the C.I.A. or another intelligence agency, acting under a presidential finding about the Iranian nuclear program.